Q & A About Serving in the Peace Corps in Kosovo

Hello! A potential new volunteer recently emailed me some questions about serving in Peace Corps Kosovo, so I thought I would use them to create a blog post. At the end, I also included a question that a friend recently asked me.

1) How safe do you feel in Kosovo? Fairly safe. Have you ever felt threatened or in danger? The two worst things that have happened to me are: 1) A student threw a rock at me as I was crossing the school yard, and it hit me on the back of my shoulder. Three students were suspended for a week as a result, and I no longer teach their classes. 2) I was taking a walk one morning, rounded a bend in the road, and came upon a large, angry stray dog. It approached me several times and barked at me, but it eventually moved on. I would say I find environmental concerns (stray dogs, lack of seat belts in cars, lack of adequate nutrition and exercise, and exposure to second-hand smoke and air pollution) more worrisome than my experiences with people here. I mostly feel safe around Kosovar people. Do you think a self defense class would be a good idea? I think taking a self defense class is always a good idea, and is something every woman should do.

2) How hot and cold does it really get there? I am from the Midwest, and weather in Kosovo is like the weather in the Midwest. It gets very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. A major factor here is that central heat and central air conditioning are rare to nonexistent. Do I need to bring a long down jacket for winter? Yes, absolutely! Are the summers too hot for jeans and a T-shirt? I don’t wear jeans in the summer because it is too hot. I recommend wearing long skirts, linen pants, capri pants, etc. Some people wear shorts, but I would recommend dressing more conservatively here than you might in the United States.

3) Have you gotten placed next to any other Peace Corps volunteers? My first year here, I had two site mates. They didn’t live in my village but they were only a ten-minute drive away. They are both gone now. This year, I am alone at my site. The next-closest volunteer is probably an hour away from me by bus. However, I see other volunteers all the time in Pristina. Kosovo is small so I wanted to know if it is pretty standard to work at a school with other Peace Corps volunteers. Volunteers are never placed at the same school, even if they live in the same village.

4) Do you have daily access to fruits or vegetables? Mostly (kinda?) yes. My host family eats peppers almost daily. Sometimes, we also have cabbage or pickled vegetables. There is not much variety, however, in vegetables or in meals in general. If you are curious to know what I eat, you can read my 5-Day Food DiaryHow much of a say do you have in your diet? Almost none. If I say that I would prefer to eat less of something (like sugar or bread), will the family take extreme offense to that? No, not at all, at least in my experience. I think it is important to be honest with your host family about what you will or will not eat. For example, I hate onion and my host family knows this. If my host mother makes something with onion in it, she will make me a smaller, separate portion with no onion.  Can I just buy my own food and cook my own meals? You will negotiate the meal situation with your host family and yes, some volunteers do cook their own meals.

5) How often is it considered appropriate to shower in Kosovo before it becomes rude (as in your host family gets irritated with you for using up amenities)? I shower and wash my hair every day. As far as toiletries go, I buy my own soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Having good hygiene has always been important to me — it’s just a part of who I am. I compromise on plenty of stuff as a volunteer, but I am not willing to compromise on maintaining good hygiene.

I think volunteers (especially in the beginning of service) are really nervous about being seen as “weird” or doing something offensive, but remember, you will be a foreigner in Kosovo. You are bound to do things that are “weird” because you come from a different country with a different culture. You are not going to perfectly blend in. As long as you aren’t being deliberately disrespectful or offensive, do what makes you happy. Is [showering] every other day excessive? I don’t think so.

6) What has been the hardest cultural aspect for you to adjust to in Kosovo? All of it has been a huge adjustment. As far as the hardest thing, I would say that because Kosovo is a patriarchal society, experiencing the way women are thought of and treated has really been hard. I also hate all the smoking!

7) My friend Dana (hi, Dana!) recently asked me how many Americans are on staff here in Kosovo. All Peace Corps posts (meaning, host countries) have to have three Americans on staff: the Country Director, the Director of Programming and Training, and the Director of Management and Operations. All other staff members (administrative assistants, medical staff, IT director, accounts payable/receivable, program managers, small grants manager, supply chain manager, and drivers) are from Kosovo.

As always, I hope my answers are helpful! Thank you for reading.

That Time I Wandered into a Horror Scene

It was about 6 p.m., full dark, no stars. I had been sweeping my bedroom and I wanted to empty the debris into the outside garbage can. I paused on the front door step. The expanse of my host family’s yard was pitch-black, but beyond that, past the fence, our neighbors stood in a circle of warm light. Then I heard the horrible squealing of a pig. The light illuminated an arm moving down and then back up, down and then back up, down and then back up. The squealing stopped, and the only sound that remained was my neighbors’ murmurings. I stood with the broom in one hand and dustpan in the other, wishing I had not seen what I just had.

Monthly Photo Project: A Year in Kosovo

This last year, I did a monthly photo project where each month, I posted a photo that captured the spirit of that month. While I didn’t love this project (I’ve seen it done better on other blogs), 2017 is the only full calendar year I will be living in Kosovo. Here is the year in photos. (Note: I hadn’t previously published December’s photo. It is here at the end.)

january-kosovo
January
february-landscape-pristina-kosovo
February
Mosque in Peja Kosovo
March
Kosovo Mountains
April
Mirusha Kosovo
May
yard kosovo
June
July landscape
July
Peja Kosovo
August
chickens in kosovo
September
October landscape
October
Landscape photo November
November
December in Kosovo.JPG
December

 

My 5-Day Food Diary

Last week, I decided to keep a 5-day food diary to give you an idea of what it is like to live and eat in Kosovo.

(Note: At times, I am posting old photos or photos from other sites. I didn’t want to weird out my host mother by taking pictures of the meals she cooked.)

Also, I didn’t include snacks. I eat chocolate. A lot of it.

Monday

Breakfast: banana + a cup of coffee

Lunch: 2 speca (peppers), two small tomatoes with salt, a big hunk of homemade cheese, several glasses of milk

Dinner: A bowl of pasule (traditional bean stew here in Kosovo) with white bread and one glass of milk

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Pasule (Photo Credit: Albania Adventure)

Tuesday

Breakfast: banana +  a cup of coffee

Lunch: Two pieces of reheated dough filled with egg (leftover from Sunday breakfast) and two glasses of milk

Dinner: Two fried eggs, a hunk of homemade cheese, and several glasses of milk

Kosovo food 2
Lunch: Reheated dough and egg

Wednesday

Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios + a cup of coffee

Lunch: one speca (pepper), one bowl of leftover pasule, 2 glasses of milk

Dinner: one bowl of leftover pasule, 1 glass of milk

Thursday

Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios +  a cup of coffee

Lunch: I was in Pristina to work, which means I got to have a treat! I had a falafel sandwich from one of my favorite restaurants, Babaganoush. HEAVEN.

Dinner: Flia (traditional Kosovo food that’s just layers of dough cooked over an open flame)

Babaganoush Pristina Kosovo
Lunch at Babaganough. YUM!

Friday

Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios +  a cup of coffee

Lunch: 1-1/2 (cold) fried eggs (ugh, couldn’t finish them), ½ of a tomato with salt, a piece of cheese, a piece of leftover flia, and a glass of milk

Dinner: penne pasta mixed with cheese and a glass of milk

Kosovo food 1
Lunch: Flia (left), cheese, tomato and egg, and milk (right)

The Last Few Weeks Before Summer Vacation

I fully expected that the last few weeks of school would drag by. I thought I’d be eager for the school year to be over, so I could visit home and then enjoy my summer vacation. But surprisingly, the last few weeks went by quickly.

Above: One of my fourth graders wrote me a sweet letter, and drew some pictures for me.

It is a tradition in Kosovo for the 9th grade to have a prom. I’ll admit, I didn’t want to attend (I don’t even teach the 9th grade). In my experience, celebrations in Kosovo can go one of two ways: they’re either fun, or they drag on forever. I tried to get out of going to prom by saying I didn’t have any money (because everyone had to pay their own way). Well, then my host father insisted on paying for me. So I kind of had to go.

The prom turned out to be pretty fun. My experience was in no way the night-long marathon my friend Chester experienced and wrote about here.

FullSizeRender (19)
My counterpart, another teacher, and me
circle dancing
Circle dancing (of course!)

The only “bad” thing that happened is that I was unexpectedly pulled in front of a microphone and asked to give a speech. Not only do I hate being put on the spot (who doesn’t?), I also don’t possess the language skills to spout off an impromptu speech in Shqip (Albanian). I managed to say, “Urime!” (congratulations), and then I ran away.

And last, my host family threw me a little birthday party before I left for the States. (I spent my actual birthday at home.) My host mother made all of my favorite foods: mish pule me patate (literally translated: meat chicken with potatoes), sallat shope (a salad with cucumber, tomatoes, and cheese), homemade cheese, and (not pictured), petulla (pronounced “pate-la”), which is fried bread with sugar on top. They also got me a chocolate cake.

Kosovo food
Kosovar food

chocolate cake

My host family invited my two site mates (Peace Corps speak for “other volunteers who live near you”) for dinner. Rachel brought Hello Kitty party hats.

happy birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me

Guest Blogger, Garrett Wheeler: Agriculture in Kosovo

April’s Note: My friend Nicole asked me to write a post about gardening/agriculture in Kosovo. Since I don’t know much about the subject, I decided to outsource her question. Below is the account of one of my fellow volunteers, Garrett Wheeler.

With the advent of spring arises a slew of tasks pertinent to raising crops. After months of neglect, farmers begin restoring fields marred by frigid weather. Makeshift fences, comprised of wood and barbed wire, oft become loose or fall apart on account of the wind. A pair of pliers, hammer, digging bar (an instrument somewhat akin to the crowbar), and U-nails are needed to mend damage accrued. While pliers pull and twist wire until taut, U-nails are driven into wooden stakes. The digging bar, aside from punching holes in the ground, may act as a sledgehammer fastening poles that have wriggled free.

agriculture kosovo 3
Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Upon completion of maintenance, a far more grueling chore awaits; fertilization. As a tractor, equipped with a trailer, positions itself near the accumulated pile of manure, workers, with the aid of pitchforks, start the loading process. Though precautions, like gloves and rain boots, are taken to promote cleanliness, the job is inherently dirty. It is not uncommon, for example, to have dung flung your direction; especially when fatigue sets in. With the trailer overflowing, tractor and crew make their way to the field. While the tractor cruises at a leisurely pace, compost is scattered left and right. A sore back and tired arms are typically awarded to all participants.

agriculture kosovo 4
Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

In preparation for sowing, a plow is hauled the entirety of a field leaving neat rows of finely ground soil in its wake. Utensils for digging are then used to create holes. As one punctures the earth, another trailing behind deposits seed. Corn and beans are planted simultaneously. While maize grows upright, the latter coils around adjacent stalks. A nearby stream supplies water when barred.

Gleaning of produce occurs in September. Hefty bags are carted and stuffed with brown pods. Those still green are unripe and need not be plucked. Though the weather may be warm, long sleeve shirts are worn to prevent cuts (maize leaves possess jagged edges which tear skin if brushed). Work is long and tedious requiring numerous days to complete. Corn, conversely, is harvested quickly. Buckets filled to the brim are dumped in a close by trailer towed by a tractor.

agriculture kosovo 1
Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Beans reaped must then be strewn across a tarp and left to bathe in the sun. After several days, or when the shells become hard and brittle, the heap is battered with the shaft of a rake. Empty husks are then brushed away revealing seed below. Once the product has been gathered in containers, it is transferred to empty sacks. Prior to dumping, however, it is necessary to remove remaining debris. As one individual focuses on slowly pouring beans, the other uses a leaf blower to flush out unwanted material.

Within the next couple of weeks, sorting ensues. Spilling small sums onto a flat surface, beans malformed or gnawed by insects are discarded. What remains is either stored for consumption of whisked away to the nearest city and sold. Corn, depending on its strain, has two locales. A small granary houses a variation more red in hue used as fodder for chickens. Yellow corn is sent to the second floor of a neighboring building. A machine adeptly removes kernels dispelling bare cobs.

agriculture kosovo 2
Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

My Favorite Photos from the Second Quarter

Without further adieu, here are my favorite photos from December 2017 until now. By my own method of counting, I have completed my second quarter of Peace Corps service.

pc-christmas
Peace Corps conference in December
po-e-ze
At the Po-E-Ze Competition

Processed with MOLDIV
Eiffel Tower

Processed with MOLDIV
Chelsea and April, at a London Pub
charliechelsea-sierra-april
With Charlie, Chelsea, and Sierra, in Prizren, Kosovo

park-pristina
A walk in Pristina in February
tabby-cat-blue-rug-grass
Happy kitty!

Processed with MOLDIV
Fortress/castle from the Ottoman Empire, Skopje, Macedonia
ecological museum peja female dress
Traditional Kosovar clothing
IMG_5833
Visiting the Ecological Museum

April in Rome Favorite

April in Rome Umbrella Pines
Umbrella Pines
roman forum
Inside the Roman Forum
April Nicole
April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
Brandenburg gate 3
Tim, Rachel, and April, in Berlin
Processed with MOLDIV
Easter Eggs
art museum budapest
Budapest

Kosovo village Catholic church
My village in Kosovo

April Mirusha Waterfall
April at Mirusha Wateralls
IMG_2086
April, under a waterfall
dinner.jpg
Anniversary dinner! Shay, April, Christian, Val, and Charlie

As always, thanks for reading! You can see my favorite photos from the first quarter here.

Gračanica, Kosovo

“I really need to get out more,” is what I keep telling myself. I go to Pristina often, Peja occasionally, and everywhere else … never. Since I am almost halfway through my Peace Corps service (isn’t that crazy?!), I keep telling myself I need to make an effort to see more of Kosovo.

Last Tuesday was a national holiday, “Europe Day,” so we didn’t have school. I decided to take the opportunity to visit a friend in Gračanica, Kosovo, a Serbian village just outside of Pristina.

I talk a lot about Albanian culture on this blog. Albanians are in the majority here in Kosovo, so I have had more exposure to their culture. I was happy to have a chance to visit Gračanica and learn a bit more about Serbian traditions.

Where is Gračanica, Kosovo?

It is south east of Pristina (Kosovo’s capital city).

gracanice

My friend was a great tour guide, and even provided me with these informational booklets from the municipality. The information I share in quotes comes from these booklets. (They’re awesome — they even have traditional recipes listed. I might share some more info from them in the future.)

Gracanice Kosovo tourism boolkets

Our first stop was Ento Kuka, a restaurant that serves traditional Serbian food. I got chicken and potatoes.

Gracanice restaurant 6
.
Gracanice restaurant 1
.
Gracanice restaurant 2
.
Gracanice restaurant 3
.
Gracanice restaurant 5
.

Next, we visited “an archeological site of the Roman and early Byzantine city Ulpiana. It reached its peak development in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.”

I knew that Kosovo had once been under Ottoman rule (which is when much of the country converted to Islam), but I had never given much thought to its prior history. I was so surprised to learn that Kosovo has Roman ruins.

We saw the site of a church, public baths, and a cemetery.

IMG_2004
..
IMG_2007
,
IMG_2008
.
Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 2
.
Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 4
Can you spot the sarcophagus?
Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 5
.
Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 6
.
Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 7
.
Roman ruins Kosovo 1
.

Next, we visited the Gracanica monastery. My friend told me that there is an exact replica of the monastery in Chicago, Illinois. I used to live in Chicago, and did not know this!

Taking photos inside the monastery is not allowed. (It is really beautiful.) Here are pictures of the outside:

Gracanice monestary
..
IMG_2016
.

Last, we visited the “Missing” sign. It is “the work of the artist Goran Stojcetovic … plastered with photos of missing and kidnapped Serbs from 1998 until 2000. It is a memorial against the crimes of the Serbian people.”

Missing Gracanice Kosovo

It was a very interesting visit and I am thankful to my friend for giving me a tour!